Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Open more ski trails to dog owners


    The present mix of north valley ski trails available to dog owners is distinctly inappropriate to their reasonable needs. At this writing (Dec. 12) and for many weeks every season, dog trails are 9 percent of the total groomed. The figure is a pathetic 5 percent with the Titus trail taken from the equation—that trail is not often groomed and is too difficult for many if not most skiers.
    Under the best snow conditions, dog trails are 29 percent of all north valley trails. Dogs are always excluded from the fine variety of trails around Galena.  
    Over the past five years, 30 percent of respondents to the after-season surveys answered “with their dog” to the question that best describes “How you most often ski.” An earlier survey indicated that 48 percent of respondents enjoy skiing with a dog. Significant numbers of trail users are dog owners—BCRD sells one season dog-trail pass for each four human passes: 450-1,800 this season.
    The Galena Trails Advisory Committee and BCRD Executive Director Jim Keating (collectively TACRD) set the dog-trail mix. The GTAC members aren’t elected to their positions and aren’t appointed by an elected person.  

I see an array of possibilities to improve dog trail management.

    I spent many hours in April and this past month discussing the dog-trail mix with Jim and a GTAC member. They defended the trail mix by contending that most trail users don’t want more dog trails, and they would not serve user’s expectations.
    In point of fact, of 295 respondents to last season’s survey, 18 requested more dog trails while four requested fewer.  
    Jim and a GTAC member acknowledged the disregard in the trail-mix decision process, how weather conditions drastically shorten the ski season at Billy’s Bridge and lower elevations—where 78 percent of dog trails are currently sited. Surely, they must consider weather and trail elevations in determining dog-trail mix to avoid the 5 percent calamity.
    Jim and a GTAC member noted that dog trails are limited because many users object to dog-waste litter. I suggest that TACRD apply the European Doctrine of Proportionality—where “an official measure must not have any greater effect on private interests than is necessary for the attainment of its objective.”
    I get the sad fact that some can’t summon the wherewithal to change a messy diaper, and their day is ruined with dog waste on a groomed trail. The rest of us are annoyed, and 90 seconds later we’ve rebounded for a great afternoon in our white wonderland.  
    Sure, group No. 1 needs special care, and the European Doctrine would determine a dog-trail mix that accommodates both groups. TACRD does not do so. Their mix is inconsiderate of my reasonable needs, and of hundreds of other’s.
    I refer to the best-case 29 percent (for dogs) mentioned above. It would be much more appropriate to protect the diaper-averse group with 29 percent of pristine trails, where 71 percent of our treasure is shared by all.
    With regard to the pathetic 5 percent figure, I remind you that late-season skiers are essentially confined to trails groomed the prior night.  Skiing in slush leaves deep groves in the snow—which turns to ice at night—which are difficult and unsafe to navigate the next day. As Titus is not often groomed, the 5 percent amount for dogs is a late season reality for dog owners.  
    TACRD will quickly recall my loud complaint last April of that 5 percent reality.
    Eighteen respondents to the last survey complained about dog-waste litter, two of whom recommended that dogs not be allowed on any trail. I saw only one trailhead last season with a sign that outlined proper use of plastic dog-waste bags, and I met a trailhead pass-checker that didn’t know about proper use. The BCRD would help minimize the dog-waste problem by posting instructive signs and having pass-checkers verify that dog owners carry a waste bag and know its proper use.
    I expect immediate and significant dog-trail management change of our North Valley Trails system. As part of the transition, I request the BCRD to remind dog-pass owners now, via email, of proper dog-waste bag use, and that strict compliance of dog rules will be expected and enforced.
    Nine survey respondents complained about the mere 2 kilometers of dog trails at Croy Nordic, which BCRD extended to 3.5 km (of 9 km total) this season. I think that the Croy Nordic situation warrants further review, but time constraints prevented my inquiry.
    I see an array of possibilities to improve dog trail management, such as opening some trails to dogs on certain days, or parts of each season, or restricting dog use to specified hours on others. TACRD will conduct meetings and more meetings in deciding changes, and that’ll take time, OK. But it’s not OK to deny dog owners—for even one more day—reasonable access to our ski trails.
    So while TACRD takes its time for a workable fix, I propose that the entire trail system west of the highway be opened up for dog owners.

    Hailey resident Bruce Norvell wrote this letter to the Blaine County Recreation District board of directors. It has been edited for length.

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